Maldives ejected from Commonwealth panel

The Commonwealth has expelled the Maldives from its disciplinary panel which has begun investigating the political chaos in the country after repeated court interventions that scuttled elections, a diplomat says.

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The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which can recommend the expulsion of countries from the 53-member bloc, ejected the Indian Ocean islands during a meeting in the Sri Lankan capital on Wednesday.

“As long as Maldives remains on the agenda of CMAG, it can’t be a member of this panel,” the diplomat said after the Commonwealth issued a statement confirming that the Maldives was discussed on Wednesday.

The country faces a constitutional crisis after three presidential elections were cancelled, with Western and Indian diplomats increasingly vocal in their criticism of the regime of incumbent Mohamed Waheed.

Opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed has won two votes in the last two months with more than 45 per cent of ballots, but a run-off election has been repeatedly delayed by the Supreme Court.

“Ministers will continue to monitor the situation in Maldives closely over the coming days,” the Commonwealth said in a statement. “The chair of CMAG will brief Commonwealth heads of government on 15 November 2013, when they meet in Colombo.”

Nasheed resigned in February 2012 following demonstrations and a mutiny by security forces which he denounced as a coup engineered by Waheed and former former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The Maldives, an upmarket honeymoon destination famed for its coral-fringed islands, began with multi-party democracy for the first time in 2008 after 30 years of control by Gayoom.

Commonwealth leaders are massing in Sri Lanka ahead of a three-day summit starting Friday.

Filipinos rush to help typhoon survivors

Filipinos abroad who have spent harrowing days trying to contact loved ones after a typhoon devastated their homeland are mobilising to send relief, despite misgivings about corrupt local officials pocketing aid on the ground.

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With thousands feared dead and aid only trickling in after Super Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to entire coastal towns on Friday, many among the 10-million-strong disaspora are still frantically trying to find out if their relatives are alive and their homes still standing.

And from Asian capitals to the US and Europe, Filipino communities are taking to churches and social media sites to raise funds for communities left with nothing – and growing increasingly desperate.

In Hong Kong, where some 150,000 Filipinos work as domestic helpers, the Red Cross said a hotline set up to trace the missing had been overwhelmed since the typhoon smashed into the nation’s central islands, displacing an estimated 673,000.

“The maids were crying. They didn’t know what to do,” spokeswoman Denise Wong told AFP.

Liezel Miralles, a 40-year-old domestic worker from Batad, a coastal town of 20,000 people, had not been able to contact her husband and other relatives to find out if they had survived.

“I feel very, very, very sad, my whole family is there,” Miralles said as she bought groceries for her employer at a street-side market. “There is no house, no phone, no connection.”

On Sunday, when Hong Kong’s downtown throngs with domestic helpers congregating on their day off, worker groups will hold an “information drive” on the crisis and gather donations.

But support group United Filipinos is one of many organisations and individuals around the world planning to direct aid only to non-government agencies.

“We are afraid that if we send to the government, it will just to go their pockets and will not reach the beneficiaries,” secretary general Eman Villanueva told AFP.

“Politicians are using it for their own benefit even in the midst of this devastating situation. They are still thinking for themselves.”

In Singapore, Filipina expatriate Dimples Larrazabal said the 24 hours it took for her to get in touch with her mother, her brother and his family in the town of Ormoc in devastated Leyte province seemed like an eternity.

“At first I was half-positive (that things would be OK) because our house is a good structure,” said Larrazabal, a 35-year-old home-maker. But she began to panic after seeing photos showing the unimaginable devastation.

“That’s when I cried ‘Oh my God! Nothing was spared!” she said. “I knew that Ormoc was directly in the path of the typhoon.”

Social media sites were inundated with posts from people searching for missing relatives, uploading pictures of individuals and families to Facebook and Twitter in posts tagged #tracingPH or simply #missing.

Google said it had updated its Person Finder site — which helps people find loved ones after a disaster – to include Philippines mobile numbers.

Krima Molina, a 26-year-old teacher from storm-struck Leyte now living in Tokyo, said she watched in horror as Facebook posts from friends at home turned into increasingly desperate pleas for help.

Homeless survivors were becoming ill from exposure, left with no shelter but makeshift shanties made of plastic tarps draped over plywood, she said. “They need medicine. They need volunteer doctors. A lot of people are injured.”

Many of the homes destroyed have been built with the earnings of the staggering 10 per cent of the population which works abroad.

Although many toil for low wages as construction workers, maids, sailors and janitors, they are collectively a major economic force and last year sent home $21.4 billion, almost 9 per cent of the nation’s economic output.

“Support from our kababayans (countrymen) abroad is overwhelming. Despite their dire circumstances, they are more than willing and ready to pitch in,” said Garry Martinez, the chairman of Migrante International, a group supporting overseas Filipinos.

“The bigger tragedy is if corrupt officials in government exploit this calamity to further plunder and steal funds meant for victims and survivors, Martinez said.

Munich snub highlights need for bid process review

Munich looked to have good chances with only Kazakhstan’s Almaty and Ukraine’s Lviv having officially announced their intentions until that point on Sunday.

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Yet the majority of citizens of all four communities, including the city of Munich, rejected the plan for a bid after the failed attempt to land the 2018 Games two years ago.

As jaws dropped in the star-studded and confident pro-Olympic camp following the announcement of results, the main explanation for what had just occurred was that the Germans were critical of major sports events and apprehensive of their benefits.

“I think it was not a problem with a concept but rather a growing criticism of parts of the population with mega sports events,” Munich mayor Christian Ude said.

Franz Beckenbauer, one of the big names brought in to drum up support for a renewed Olympic candidacy, called the result “stupid” and a “missed opportunity”. Olympic skiing champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, another supporter, said voting against the bid had been “narrow-minded”.

The Munich snub came just days before Atlanta, host of the 1996 Olympics, announced the demolition of the Games stadium to make way for middle class homes, while Germany continued to debate the merit of hosting the Games’.

BRAZIL PROTESTS

Protest and construction delays plaguing Brazil ahead of next year’s football World Cup and criticism levelled against Qatar for their preparations and workers’ conditions for the 2022 tournament have no doubt worked in favour of a negative Munich vote.

Russia’s own massive price tag of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics and turn the Black sea resort into a winter sports hub has also done little to dispel any fears of massive bills and grave environmental impact.

There are also financial concerns, including what some in Munich have called “oppressive contracts” with the International Olympic Committee and an expensive bid process that can be close to $100 million for a summer Games campaign with no guarantees of success.

“The citizens shared our fears and the problems with the bidding such as cost and oppressive contracts with the IOC,” said the Green party’s Bavarian parliamentary leaders Ludwig Hartmann, a long-time opponent to the bid.

For the former long-time IOC marketing director Michael Payne, it is clear the current process is too complicated.

“I have been on the other side and the process has become way too bureaucratic, way to costly, let’s be very clear,” Payne told Reuters.

“If (Norway’s) Lillehammer had to go through the process as it stands now I don’t think they could or would have bid and they ended up organising one of the most successful winter Games (in 1994).”

For new IOC president Thomas Bach, a revision of the bid process to enhance the appeal of the Olympic product is necessary.

ATTRACTIVE PRODUCT

The German, elected to the presidency in September, had told Reuters days before assuming the post: “Maybe we are asking too much of them (bid cities).”

“We must ensure that organising the Games is attractive and feasible for as many cities and countries as possible. In this respect we may have to reconsider the bidding procedure to make it more encouraging while ensuring operational excellence.”

Munich, at the foot of the German Alps, was not the only traditional European winter destination to pull out with Swiss Davos and St Moritz seeing their bid killed off by a referendum in March.

With six bid cities expected by Thursday’s deadline, the 2022 campaign is double the number it was for the 2018 Games with Munich bidding alongside Annecy and winners Pyeongchang.

Sweden’s Stockholm and Norway’s Oslo have this week joined the 2022 race along with Almaty, Lviv, a joint Chinese bid from Beijing/Zhangjiakou, and Poland’s Krakow. The IOC will announce the official list of candidates on Thursday.

“The IOC has a fine line to navigate. Naturally you want to remove risk issues before you elect,” Payne said. “But on the other hand are you going too far? Is it too costly, too expensive to bid?”

He said it was important to provide a vision with the concept and communicate that vision successfully.

“Clearly what has happened in Brazil has been a reinforcement that the governments should have a proper vision and strategy and not go on some ego trip.”

“I don’t think the problem is the World Cup. The problem is 12 stadiums being built when eight would have sufficed.”

“You have to make sure the process, the product, the end result is beneficial. Otherwise you are going to run out of volunteers to stage the Games,” said Payne.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Ange to keep Socceroos on their toes

The Socceroos may be feeling on edge about their place in the side but coach Ange Postecoglou plans to keep his poker face on and leave them in the dark about what cards they’ll be dealt.

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Postecoglou put his entire squad through their paces on Wednesday as they prepare to face Costa Rica at Allianz Stadium next week.

Tim Cahill was the only player in the 22-man squad to miss the session after his flight to Sydney was cancelled, forcing him to arrive on Thursday.

Postecoglou is yet to name a captain for Tuesday’s clash and hasn’t given much away when it comes to his starting 11.

And that’s just the way the two-time A-League championship-winning coach plans to keep it.

Speaking at the event marking 40 years to the day since Australia first qualified for a World Cup, Postecoglou said the current crop should be reminded of the honour that comes with representing their nation.

“There is obviously a bit of uncertainty there but maybe I sort of cultivate a bit of that as well – it keeps people on their toes,” he said on Wednesday.

“They won’t get all the answers in this camp.

“We were part of something today that shows just what it means to play for your country and that will be at the essence of everything we do.

“It’s not an entitlement it’s an absolute privilege and it’s something that you need to continually strive for and not take for granted.

“I plan to have an environment that hopefully has the players on edge the whole journey.

“It may be a game of poker but I pretty much know what everyone is holding, so I’m in a good spot.”

Long-time skipper Lucas Neill is by no means assured of leading the team but has made it clear he’s still up to the task.

And Postecoglou says that’s the kind of drive he expects to see from his players.

“I’d be disappointed if he felt any other way,” he said.

“I’d be more worried if he was resigned to something rather than saying ‘I want to prove that I should still be here and can still lead the team or play in the team’ and that goes for every player.

“I spoke to them as a group for the first time this morning and the message was pretty clear that I really want to be surrounded by driven people, ambitious people with the same mindset that I have.”

Standing in the same room as members the 1973 squad along with his counterpart, then coach Rale Rasic, Postecoglou recalled watching his “hero” Jimmy Mackay slot home the goal that secured Australia a spot at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.

He said while there’s still a lot of work to be done, he hopes to create similar lasting memories during his tenure starting with a win on Tuesday.

“We start with winning and work backwards,” he said.

“We want to achieve a lot of things but there’s a game there to be won.

“They’re going to be a tough opponent, they’ve qualified for the World Cup and we need to be able to compete against teams like that in seven months time.

“I’m confident we’ll see some foundations laid and certainly the message will be to go out there and try to win.”

Aurizon gets first strike on pay

Rail operator Aurizon’s shareholders have delivered a `first strike’ against what they have cited as an overly generous executive pay policy.

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A vote resulted in 28 per cent of shareholders rejecting the report.

If 25 per cent or more of investors reject the report again in 2014, delivering what is known as a `second strike’, they may get a vote to oust several board members at Aurizon, formerly known as QR.

Both the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA) and proxy advisers ISS had recommended voting against executive pay.

An increase in chief executive Lance Hockridge’s base pay from $1.65 million to $1.93 million, plus a larger short term bonus of $2.5 million, were criticised.

Longer term performance rights for Mr Hockridge potentially worth millions more were also criticised for being too generous, along with a jump in chairman John Prescott’s pay to $479,000 from $407,000.

Aurizon’s annual profit rose by one per cent in 2012/13 to $477 million, as higher earnings offset redundancy costs.

A high protest vote of 18.6 per cent was also lodged against awarding the performance rights to Mr Hockridge.

The ASA has called for Mr Prescott to resign, arguing he has allowed bonuses to be paid that should not have.

“We think the grant is excessive,” an ASA spokesman told Mr Prescott at the company’s annual general meeting.

Mr Prescott defended Aurizon’s remuneration policies, saying they were aligned with creating shareholder value, and fixed remuneration was frozen for now.

Aurizon shares lost 16 cents, or 3.3 per cent, to $4.65.

Formerly owned by the Queensland government, Aurizon was privatised in late 2010, and derives the bulk of its earnings hauling coal from mines in Queensland and NSW to ports.

Several shareholders raised concerns about plans to transport coal near the Great Barrier Reef, while protesters outside the meeting were also critical of hauling coal from the Galilee Basin.

Typhoon survivors desperate for food, aid

Thousands of people jostled and begged for seats on scarce flights out of a Philippine city demolished by a super typhoon, as anger at the slow pace of aid reaching the disaster zone turned deadly.

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News emerged that eight people were crushed to death on Tuesday when a huge crowd of survivors from Haiyan rushed a government rice store in Alangalang town, 17 kilometres from the devastated city of Tacloban.

“One wall of our warehouses collapsed and eight people were crushed and killed instantly” in Tuesday’s incident, said Rex Estoperez, spokesman for the National Food Authority.

Five days after Haiyan – one of the strongest storms ever – ripped apart entire coastal communities, the situation in Tacloban was becoming ever more dire with essential supplies low and increasingly desperate survivors clamouring to leave.

“Everyone is panicking,” Captain Emily Chang, a navy doctor, told AFP.

“They say there is no food, no water. They want to get of here,” she added, saying doctors at the airport had run out of medicine, including antibiotics.

“We are examining everyone but there’s little we can do until more medical supplies arrive.”

The United Nations estimates 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte province where five-metre waves flattened nearly everything in their path as they swept hundreds of metres across the low-lying land.

However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said late on Tuesday he believed that toll was “too much”, adding that 2500 “is the figure we’re working on”, despite the rapidly-climbing toll and the bodies still littering the streets of Tacloban.

Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras admitted authorities had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of deaths.

“The reason the body recovery stopped is because we ran out of body bags,” he said. “But we now have 4000 bags. I am not saying the casualties are 4000. We are making sure there is an oversupply.”

At Tacloban airport, AFP journalists witnessed exhausted and famished survivors pushing and shoving each other to get on one of the few flights out of the city.

“We have been here for three days and we still cannot get to fly out,” said a frail Angeline Conchas, who was waiting for space on a plane with her seven-year-old daughter Rogiel Ann.

Her family were trapped on the second floor of their building as flood waters rose around them.

“We made it out, but now we may die from hunger.”

The UN estimates more than 11.3 million people have been affected with 673,000 made homeless, since Haiyan smashed into the nation’s central islands on Friday.

Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.

The international relief effort is building momentum with many countries pledging help. The United States and Britain are sending warships carrying thousands of sailors to the Philippines, and US amphibious craft were also being deployed.

All were expected to arrive over the next few days. But for a shattered population already in dire straits, any delay is too long.

“People are desperate because they have nothing in Tacloban,” Marco Boasso of the International Organisation for Migration said.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints in Tacloban on Wednesday to try to prevent pillaging and the government said roads were now passable throughout the area, raising hope that relief might reach those in need.

“All the roads and bridges except two bridges in Region 8 are already passable,” said National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council chief Eduardo del Rosario. Region 8 includes Leyte and Samar, the two hardest hit provinces.

“All our necessary relief goods, they can go to Tacloban (by road).”

President Aquino has declared a “state of national calamity”, allowing the government to impose price controls and quickly release emergency funds.

Aquino’s figure of up to 2500 deaths looked set to be easily surpassed. By early afternoon Wednesday the government said 2275 people were known to have died and 80 were still missing.

International aid groups said they feared what was known now was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Obviously the situation in Tacloban is appalling but we are also very concerned about outlying islands,” Patrick Fuller, Red Cross spokesman in the Asia-Pacific, told AFP.

“There are a lot of them and I think it will be days, if not weeks, before we have a clear picture.

“No one is in a position to give an accurate figure. In Tacloban bodies are lying by the side of roads but those are just the ones that are visible. If you look around at the amount of wreckage caused you can see that people might have been taken out by a tidal surge.”

“It’s too early but (the death toll) will definitely be in the thousands.

Charles officially becomes a pensioner

The Prince of Wales is set to celebrate his 65th birthday – a milestone for the man who will one day be king.

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Charles’s birthday on Thursday falls on the eve of the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) he will host in Sri Lanka.

It will be one of his most significant duties to date as a future monarch as he will be deputising for the Queen on the world stage.

Charles has been heir to the throne since he was three and on Thursday will officially become a pensioner.

Like thousands of others he will be claiming his pension this year – but will be donating it to an unnamed charity which supports the elderly.

The prince is entitled to the state benefit because he paid National Insurance contributions while in the Navy in the 1970s and made voluntary contributions later.

This year, he has also experienced the joy of welcoming his first grandchild, Prince George, into world.

A king in waiting for more than 60 years, he has carried out countless royal engagements over the decades, undertaking 480 in Britain and 112 overseas in 2012 alone.

The prince is the oldest heir to the throne for almost 300 years and the longest serving heir to the throne.

Charles recently told the US magazine Time he wanted to make the most of his position.

“I’ve had this extraordinary feeling, for years and years, ever since I can remember really, of wanting to heal and make things better,” he said.

“I feel more than anything else it’s my duty to worry about everybody and their lives in this country, to try and find a way of improving things if I possibly can.”

As well as being patron of more than 400 charities, he has set up The Prince’s Charities, a group of not-for-profit organisations which raise over STG100 million ($A172.12 million) a year. He also founded The Prince’s Trust youth charity.

The prince, who is known for his strong opinions, particularly on the environment, architecture and farming, has faced criticism in the past over his “black spider memos” to ministers – the name given to the handwritten letters he penned to government ministers expressing his views.

In July this year, the Attorney-General’s decision to block public disclosure of letters Charles wrote to ministers in 2004 and 2005 was upheld by three High Court judges.

It was a defeat for the Guardian newspaper which said it had been fighting an eight-year battle to shed more light “on the way the heir to the throne seeks to influence government ministers even though he holds no elected position”.

In the nineties, Charles faced turmoil in his private life, played out on a public stage when he split from Diana, Princess of Wales, and anguish when Diana – mother to sons William, now the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry – died in a car crash.

Now nearly two decades later, life is more settled for the future king who has been married to Camilla for eight years.

She was once derided as the “other woman” in Charles and Diana’s relationship, but has established herself as a senior member of the royal family, attending the state opening of parliament and travelling with the Queen in her Diamond Jubilee carriage procession.

To mark his 65th birthday the prince has guest-edited a special edition of Country Life, highlighting his fears for the farming industry.

Charles expressed concerns that farming ranked as one of the least desirable careers for young people and that the average age of a British farmer is 58, and questioned why farmers have to act as a “buffer for the retailer and consumer against all the economic uncertainties of producing food”.

He added: “It cannot be right that a typical hill farmer earns just STG12,600, with some surviving on as little as STG8,000 a year, whilst the big retailers and their shareholders do so much better out of the deal, having taken none of the risk.”

The edition features a full-page photograph of Camilla, which editor Mark Hedges said was Charles’ decision.

The Country Life editor told Daybreak that when they were going through the pages of the magazine at the end, Charles suddenly said “my darling wife”.

“It was just so touching,” he said. “I really realised that they have a wonderful marriage.”

The royal couple are coming to the end of their nine-day tour of India which has already taken them to the shores of the River Ganges in the north, New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune.

With a heavy heart, India prepares for Tendulkar farewell

The ‘Little Master’ will bring the curtain down on a glittering 24-year career at the age of 40 when he plays his 200th test match, against West Indies, at his home ground starting on Thursday.

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Among the 32,000 present will be his wheelchair-bound mother Rajni, for whom Tendulkar has managed to get a ramp at Wankhede Stadium so she can watch her idolised son bat for the first time.

“Mother has never seen him play. This will be the first time. Also it will be a very emotional moment,” his elder brother, Ajit, told an Indian Today group television programme.

For the last time, the superstitious Tendulkar will put on his left pad first, and walk out to bat in India’s colours, having long secured his place among the game’s greats.

“In terms of stats, you’re going to have players with better stats (in the future), you never know,” West Indies batting great Brian Lara said of the Indian.

“There are boxers who have a better record than Mohammad Ali but if you talk about boxing you’ve to mention Muhammad Ali, basketball you have to mention Michael Jordan. When you speak about cricket, you’ll speak about Tendulkar.”

Statistically the greatest batsman of all time, Tendulkar’s greatness goes far beyond those numbers.

Despite overwhelming adulation from a country that has virtually deified him, Tendulkar has displayed the same composure at the crease in accumulating 100 international centuries as he has done off the field.

His self-discipline and controversy-free image have made him a role model for India’s burgeoning youth, who are largely disillusioned with the politicians.

Since announcing his decision to retire from cricket, the country of 1.2 billion people has slipped into nostalgia about its biggest sporting icon.

Tendulkar’s career has dominated the pages of national dailies with figures from politics, sport and the corporate world all contributing to the frenzy surrounding his final match.

The website selling the meagre 5,000 tickets available for the public to attend the test crashed within minutes of opening on Monday under what it called “unprecedented pressure”, with 19.7 million hits in the first hour.

BATTING RECORDS

The frenzy was hardly a surprise given it will be the last chance to watch a player whose place in the batting pantheon is second only to Australian Don Bradman.

Bradman’s test average of 99.94 is nearly 40 runs ahead of any of his nearest rivals to have played at least 20 matches.

All other major run-scoring records belong to Tendulkar, who made his debut for India against Pakistan in Karachi in 1989 as a curly-haired 16-year-old.

He has scored the most runs in tests and one-day cricket and his 51 test centuries and 49 ODI hundreds are also records.

Even Bradman once asked his wife Jessie to watch Tendulkar on television to confirm his own impression that the pair had similar styles.

Tendulkar probably shouldered a more difficult task in living up to the expectations of 1.2 billion cricket-crazy fans every time he walked out to bat.

“Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders,” team mate Virat Kohli said after India’s players completed a lap of honour with Tendulkar on their shoulders following their World Cup win at home in 2011.

‘The God of cricket’, as fans call him in India, has not been in prime form during the last few years with his last test century coming against South Africa in January 2011.

Some believe the master batsman has played on for too long and should have retired after the World Cup victory.

LONG ROPE

“If I was Sachin, I would have quit a year ago,” Sourav Ganguly told NDTV in a chat show. “Last two-three years haven’t been good for him and only because he is Sachin Tendulkar he has been given the run for three years.

“Nobody in world cricket or Indian cricket would have got that rope.”

Tendulkar’s farewell series has been marked by a nostalgia-laden celebration of his glittering career.

In the last fortnight, a ground in Mumbai has been named after him, his wax statue has been unveiled at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, singers have produced a music album and countless banners, murals and paintings of him have sprouted up across India.

The government is also planning to bestow India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, on him which would make him the first sportsman to achieve the honour.

“There used to be a hitch earlier when similar demands were made for Sachin to get the Bharat Ratna,” Indian minister Rajeev Shukla said. “That being he was still playing and it will be difficult to award him the Ratna.

“But now that he will be retiring we will renew our demand.”

* Due to an ongoing dispute between media organisations and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Reuters is unable to provide full coverage of the India v West Indies test match.

(Editing by Ossian Shine)

Pacquiao torn by typhoon victims’ plight

Boxing star Manny Pacquiao admitted feelings of anguish and regret after the final stages of training for a must-win fight kept him from visiting typhoon victims in his native Philippines.

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Pacquiao said he felt “very bad” for the thousands killed and displaced by super typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful ever recorded, which swept through central islands.

But Pacquiao, who is training out of harm’s way in his home city of General Santos, said he could not jeopardise preparations for his November 24 fight against America’s Brandon Rios.

“I really feel very bad over what happened in the Visayas region where more than 10,000 people are believed to have lost their lives,” Pacquiao said in a “statement to his people” posted on his website.

“I really want to visit the area and personally do what I can to help our countrymen who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy but I’m in deep training in General Santos City for a crucial fight so I regret I cannot go.”

The 34-year-old Congressman pledged to send aid to affected areas, where the desperate search for supplies has turned deadly with eight people killed in a crush at a government rice store.

“I will send help to those who need it the most and I enjoin all of you to pray for our country and people in these trying times,” he said.

Pacquiao, a former champion in eight weight divisions, is bidding to turn back the clock and recover from two consecutive defeats when he faces Rios in Macau on November 24.

Defeat would redouble expectations for his retirement, although Pacquiao has insisted he will not hang up his gloves if he loses the World Boxing Organisation welterweight title bout.

The United Nations estimates 10,000 deaths from Typhoon Haiyan, although President Benigno Aquino says the toll is closer to 2,500.

An international relief operation is in action with 11.3 million people — a tenth of the Philippines’ population — affected and 673,000 people homeless, according to UN estimates.

Hockey seeks to raise debt limit

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has introduced legislation into parliament to raise the national debt ceiling to half a trillion dollars.

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Mr Hockey said he was presenting the bill “with regret”.

“The previous government recognised that ultimately whoever was elected after the election would have to deal with this issue,” he said.

The proposal before the lower house is to increase the debt ceiling, or allowable value of government bonds on issue, to $500 billion from $300 billion.

The current limit is expected to be reached on December 12, while Treasury advice to the government points to a peak in gross government debt above $400 billion by 2016.

Labor wants to amend the legislation to limit the cap to $400 billion in the absence of a “proper” explanation from the government on why it wants such a big increase.

The debt ceiling had been raised three times since 2008, when Labor was in power.

Mr Hockey said when in opposition, the coalition government had accepted the advice of the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) and supported raising the debt limits.

But Labor, in concert with the Australian Greens, were now opposing a similar move – even though they caused the debt.

“It is Labor’s debt, there is no excuse,” Mr Hockey said.

The treasurer noted the debt ceiling was never raised under the former Howard coalition government because “we paid off the debt”.

Mr Hockey challenged Labor’s stance on his bill.

“This is a game that they are going to lose,” he said.

Mr Hockey said the debt cap increase was not about running up more debt.

“We don’t want to have to come back to this place and increase the debt level (again), we want to put it out of the way and get on with the job of paying it down,” he added.

Mr Hockey said he hoped the domestic and world economies continued to get better, but he didn’t know what lay ahead.

“We are being responsible,” he said.

“Labor trashed the joint when they were in government and now they are trying to stop us from fixing it.”

Mr Hockey said the debt cap increase was not about running up more debt.

“We don’t want to have to come back to this place and increase the debt level(again), we want to put it out of the way and get on with the job of paying it down,” added.

Mr Hockey said he hoped the domestic and world economies continued to get better, but he didn’t know what lay ahead.

“We are being responsible,” he said.

“Labor trashed the joint when they were in government and now they are trying to stop us from fixing it.”

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